On Monday night against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Yusuf provided a timely reminder that Andre Russell is not the only brutal big-hitting machine that Kolkata Knight Riders possess. And when you put the two of them together, well, opposition bowlers better run for the hills.
At the start of the 14th over, Knight Riders needed 81 runs from 36 balls to beat RCB at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. According to Star Sports' match predictions, the chasing side has less than a 25 per cent chance of winning the game at that stage.
Had Yusuf known these odds, he would probably have scoffed. Yusuf has heard it all before. More importantly, he has done it all before and, in this instance, he had Russell for company. Worry? Not him!
"We knew that if we stuck around and played our shots, the target will not be too difficult to chase," Yusuf said. "At one point, when I was setting myself up, Russell played really well, taking the pressure off me. It was very important that we played for each other," Russell said, returning the compliment, showing why this Kolkata team has become a perennial threat to lift the title.
The truth is that none of it was easy. Royal Challengers had bowled well to contain KKR's top-order. They restricted the visitors to just 69 runs from the first 10 overs and when Manish Pandey fell off the first ball of the 11th over, it looked like it Bangalore was going to condemn Kolkata to their third straight defeat.
Yusuf then swung wildly off his first ball and missed it completely. In his first 14 deliveries, Yusuf played only one shot in anger: A massive six off Varun Aaron that sailed over the long-on boundary. The rest of his runs came in singles — eight of them to be precise — giving him a strike-rate of 100.
Then the bear awakened as if from hibernation and feasted on the RCB bowling; driving, pulling and blasting his way to another 46 runs from his next 15 deliveries. It was Russell who began the battering in the 15th over, but it was Yusuf who broke the back of the chase between the 16th and 17th overs. His sequence of balls faced reads as follows: 4, 1, 4, 4, 4, 6, 2, 4.
For those counting at home, that's 29 runs from eight balls. The first two deliveries were bowled by Aaron, the next six by Shane Watson, who might well have nightmares about Yusuf for some time to come. Except for one thick outside edge to third man, the ball kept meeting the middle of Yusuf's bat and kept deciding it wanted to get as far away from it as possible.
The best shot of the bunch was the boundary that began the sequence, a punched flick to midwicket off Aaron. Yusuf had stepped across his stumps and the middle stick was clearly visible between his legs. Aaron fired in almost the perfect yorker but before it could sneak through the gap, the bat came down with perfect timing to drill the ball to the midwicket boundary.
Timing is actually Yusuf's biggest virtue, something that can go unnoticed because he is a big, tall man. And when he is timing the ball so sweetly, shoulders inevitably have a way of drooping for the fielding side.
Russell fell with 21 runs still to get, but Yusuf wasn't done yet, and it was Tabraiz Shamsi's turn to feel his power and his appreciate his underrated skill. The first ball of the 19th over was flighted and Yusuf slapped it over long-off for a six. Then, expecting and getting a flatter delivery, Yusuf waited until the last moment to divert it past keeper and third man for a four.
His face lit up with a big smile after the win, telling you how much it means for him to win games for this team. Yusuf robbed Royal Challengers of Bangalore of victory on Monday night but then had to watch Andre Russell rob him of the man-of-the-match award. In the background, you could see Knight Riders' CEO Venky Mysore laughing and patting him on the shoulder in consolation, but chances are Yusuf won't mind too much.
"A good thing for us is now everyone is clicking,” he said. “We are a confident unit now."
The rest of the league has been duly warned.
Published Date: May 03, 2016 16:36 PM | Updated Date: May 03, 2016 16:36 PM